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Sebastian Cabot

1474-1557

Cabot, Sebastian, discoverer, was born probably in Venice between 1475 and 1477; died in London, subsequent to 1557. Both places and dates are uncertain. Richard Eden says that, according to Cabot's own story, he was born in Bristol and carried to Venice at four years of age; but Contarini, the Venetian ambassador at the court of Charles V., quotes Cabot in his diary as claiming Venetian birth and English education. It is believed, but without positive proof, that he accompanied his father on the voyage to the coast of Labrador. 

In May, 1498, presumably under authority of the royal charter granted to John Cabot, he sailed from Bristol in command of two ships manned by volunteers, in search of a northwest passage. He went so far north that, in the early part of July, daylight was almost continuous. The sea, however, was so full of icebergs that he worked southward, and discovered what is generally believed to have been Newfoundland. Proceeding, he reached the mainland, made several landings, dealt with the natives, and followed the coast southward, probably as far as Chesapeake bay. In spite of the discovery of a wide domain under the temperate zone, this voyage was considered a failure, since it did not open the passage to the Indies.

The contemporary achievements of Vasco da Gama were so much more brilliant that the Cabots were outshone, and so careless were they of their chartered rights that the patent giving them exclusive privileges was lost or mislaid. On the death of Henry VII., Sebastian was invited to Spain by Ferdinand V., and after being appointed one of the "Council of the New Indies," was in 1518 named pilot-major of the kingdom. He never abandoned his ambition to discover a direct route to Asia, and in 1526 sailed in search of a southwest passage.

 In 1527 he discovered the river Plata, and in 1530 returned to Spain. Meanwhile Edward VI. had come to the throne, and, recognizing the value of Cabot to English maritime supremacy, issued a warrant for his return, designating him as "one Shabot, a pilot." Cabot answered the writ in person in 1548, still bent upon voyages of discovery; and on 6 Jan., 1549, the king gave him a pension of £166 13s. 4d. 

On 19 Jan., 1550, Charles V. summoned him to return to Spain; but Cabot preferred to remain under English colors, and received additional emoluments, secured a reissue of the lost charter granted by Henry VII., and became president of a company of merchants, having exploration as its object. On 9 Sept., 1553, after the accession of Queen Mary, Charles V. made a final attempt to induce his return to Spain, so great was his personal influence even in his old age. A new company was formed for discovery on 23 Feb., 1556, with Cabot as president, and early in the succeeding spring an exp. edition was sent off. The resignation of his pension on 27 May, 1557, and its reissue two days later, are the last authentic incidents in the career of this remarkable man, who was in effect ~he discoverer of a very large portion of both the American continents. See "Jean and Sebastian Cabot," by Henri Harrisse (Paris, 1882).
 
Edited Appleton's American Biography Copyright© 2000 by VirtualologyTM


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